Atlanta Orders In: Sister bistro embraces takeout style of original Taco Pete in East Point

Taco Pete, and now Taco Pete Bistro in Hapeville, has always excelled at old-school tacos — like ground beef in hard shells (top) and gently griddled soft shells (see the beans and cheese and steak versions below). Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When Reo Pagán unveiled Taco Pete Bistro two and a half years ago, it was a different place than his first Taco Pete in East Point.

While the original spot is a tiny building with a walk-up window, through which guests are handed tacos, burgers and wings wrapped to go, the sister location in Hapeville offered table service, plates, silverware, margaritas and beer.

And, while Taco Pete closed at 8:30 p.m., the bistro fancied itself a nightspot. It opened at 5 p.m., catering to airport travelers staying over at two adjacent hotels. The menu changed, too. Instead of a la carte tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc., there were combo plates, with beans and rice.

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Customers wait in line to order food at Taco Pete in East Point. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

However, it didn’t take long for Pagán, 65, to realize the late hours weren’t for him — not to mention the extra staffing, the dishwashing, the mopping up spilled drinks. “It was a lot,” he said.

So, when the pandemic upended both Taco Petes, Pagán made haste to refashion the bistro as a takeout-only spot, and to forward the East Point location’s calls to the Hapeville store, so he wouldn’t lose business.

An order of 10 wings from Taco Pete Bistro in Hapeville: five with house sauce (tangy-sweet with a hint of curry) and five with lemon-pepper. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When the delightfully old-school original Taco Pete reopens later this month, it will boast safety features (including plexiglass protectors at the window and a touch-free point-of-sale system) to protect staff and customers. The building only measures 270 square feet, so maintaining proper social distancing inside has been a concern.

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Taco Pete Bistro offers delicious Mexican-American food at good value. Seen here are a cheese quesadilla, chili-cheese nachos, tacos, a taco burger, and (hidden under the yellow paper) a chicken burrito. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

In relaunching the Hapeville location on April 20, “we went back to the old way, because it was what we knew how to do best,” said Pagán, who owns the business with his wife, Claudia. “It kind of fit the need of what we could do, and turn out more volume than the sit-down.”

Among his improvements: He turned the beverage station by the front door into a takeout counter with a plexiglass protector. Customers are required to wear masks. Only one party is allowed inside at a time, and, after ordering, they are asked to sit outside.

Reo Pagán decided to retool Taco Pete Bistro, his sit-down restaurant in Hapeville, in the style of the East Point original — takeout only. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As for the back of the house, Hapeville has a luxurious amount of space compared with East Point — a big kitchen, a walk-in refrigerator, ample storage.

On Tuesdays, the bistro features fried fish tacos with house-made slaw. Customers can sip margaritas outside while they wait. Still, Pagán isn’t sold on the alcohol component. As he filled up the cooler recently, he thought, “Do we even want to make another order as far as the beer and wine?”

Of course, not long ago he was ready to close the 15-year-old family business.

This takeout order from Taco Pete Bistro includes (clockwise from upper left) cheese quesadilla; chili-cheese nachos; a chicken burrito; two soft tacos (beans and cheese; steak); two hard-shell tacos with ground beef; and a taco burger. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

At the outset of the pandemic, Pagán was so shook that he shuttered both restaurants and considered retiring. After a few weeks, his daughter Kahlilah noticed he was a little down in the dumps, and urged him to reboot Hapeville. “Daddy, why you keep dragging your feet?” she prodded. “You gotta keep moving.”

As a big fan of Taco Pete’s, I hope Pagán and family can keep up the hustle. Sometimes, yo quiero Taco Pete. Nothing else will do.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

TACO PETE BISTRO

Menu: Mexican-American

Alcohol: yes

What I ordered: two hard-shell tacos with ground beef; two soft tacos: a “veggie” (beans and cheese) and steak; chicken burrito; chili-cheese nachos; cheese quesadilla “stuffed” (with tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeño); taco cheeseburger; 10 wings, half with house sauce and half with lemon pepper. This is the style of Mexican food that I grew up with, and I adore it. New to me: the nachos and the wings bathed in perfectly balanced house sauce, with a touch of curry. Both were wonderful.

Service options: takeout only; order by phone or in person; delivery via DoorDash

Safety protocols: follows CDC guidelines

Address, phone: 301 N. Central Ave., Hapeville; 404-254-4143

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Website: tacopete.com

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